CEDAR FALLS – Six wrestlers and a group of wrestling coaches sat in the stands at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis watching other wrestlers wrestle in the NCAA Championships last March.
None of those wrestlers liked their vantage point. In fact, it has been a motivator over the last seven months.
In a few short weeks the Northern Iowa wrestling program will begin its quest to improve their point of view for this March’s NCAA Division I championships in Detroit.
“We had six guys that went to the national tournament last year for the first time,” Panther head coach Doug Schwab said Thursday during UNI’s annual media day at the West Gym. “Five of them won matches and the one guy was injured and didn’t get to wrestle.
“But there wasn’t a single guy that left that building (happy).”
In a meeting in the bowels of the Enterprise Center after the placing matches, Schwab questioned each of those wrestlers on what is going to change between now and then.
He told them that is really what is going to dictate if you are going to sit in the stands on Saturday and watch wrestling or if you are going to be wrestling on Saturday (at the NCAA championships).
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To a man, those six with 28 other teammates, went to work on making a change.
“As a group we have done a hell of a job,” Schwab said. “I’m excited about the amount of work our guys have put in and the purposeful work our guys have put in has been the best since I’ve been here. That is exciting and as good as it has been it can be better.
“We are not there, yet. The thing is I don’t think we will ever be there, especially when you are trying to become the best version of ourselves, get the most out of these guys. There is always going to be another level to it.”
The pieces are in place for UNI to have one of the best seasons the Panthers have ever had under Schwab.
Keckeisen finished 20-1 and his third-place finish is the best by a Panther freshmen in almost 70 years. In 1952, Bill Wieck took first at 157, one match after former Waterloo West star Jim Harmon took second at 147.
All-American Parker Keckeisen leads the charge after his third-place finish a year ago at 184, the best finish by a freshman in nearly 70 years.
“More belief in myself,” Keckeisen said of what he learned most from his rookie season. “I would say that is something that held me back in the semifinals.
“It’s making more adjustments, trying to find different ways to attack on my feet. I know I can go for a while. I know I can go for seven minutes. But maybe it is being more efficient with angles and stuff like that.”
Panther 157-pound starter suffered a major sickle anemia crisis during a family vacation to Colorado in the summer of 2019. Complications from that episode saw Lara spend nearly two months in a hospital bed.
Brody Teske at 125 will most likely open the season ranked in the top eight, while Triston Lara at 149, Austin Yant at 165, Lance Runyon at 174 and Carter Isley at heavyweight return after earning NCAA trips.
Teske and Keckeisen both are returning Big 12 Conference champions, additionally.
The Panthers also have veterans at 133 in Jack Skudlarczyk and Kyle Biscoglia, and Cayd Lara at 157.
There are still battles at 141 and 197 with several prospects challenging for those positions.
“I know I have that group of guys in front of me and they are kind of like wild dogs ready to run,” Schwab said. “I kind of got to hold them back because it is not quite time.”
UNI opens the season on Nov. 14 at the Grand View Open in Des Moines. The first chance for Panther fans to see them at home will be Dec. 11 and 12 at the UNI Open inside the UNI-Dome.
UNI’s first home dual will be on Jan. 21 against Utah Valley at the West Gym. The home slate features six home dual meets, including a tilt with Iowa State inside the McLeod Center on Feb. 11.
17 SECONDS: UNI was seconds away from a pair of all-Americans last March in St. Louis.
Teske lost a 2-0 lead late in a quarterfinal match and then lost in sudden victory one match short of reaching the semifinals and a spot on the podium.
It is a lost that was a driving point in the off-season for the Fort Dodge native.
“There is not a day I don’t wake up and think about it,” Teske said. “I will never forget 17 seconds on the clock and running back to the middle and the next moment I’m sitting on my butt crushed.”
CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN: Keckeisen and Yant, a Waverly-Shell Rock graduate, were named captains for the season by a vote of their teammates.
“It is a hard job,” Yant said. “I not only got to worry about Austin Yant, but I got to worry about 34 other guys. It is a challenge I’m really looking at attacking.
“I’m trying to lead this team better than anybody else has ever lead it. It is a really awesome challenge and I’m looking forward to doing it to the best of my ability.”
NO ROCKER FOR HOLSCHLAG: Former all-American Jacob Holschlag of La Porte City has officially retired from competition.
The all-American wrestler has seen injuries keep him out of the lineup each of the past two seasons.
Schwab said Holschlag will graduate with a master's degree this year and remains an important figure and influence inside the Panther wrestling room.
"He's done with his wrestling career," Schwab said. "There comes a point where you have to make a decision on quality of life with certain things. He is in grad school right now. He is a huge asset to our program."
A two-time state champion at Union in high school, Holschlag was a two-time NCAA qualifier for UNI taking fifth at 197 pounds in Cleveland, Ohio in 2018.
Collection of Northern Iowa wrestling photos from NCAA wrestling championships
NCAA Championships Wrestling
NCAA Championships Wrestling
Brody Teske vs. DeAugustino
Isley first round
Marinelli-Yant first round
UNI Lara first round
Lara fist pump
Teske wrestles Thursday
“I know I have that group of guys in front of me and they are kind of like wild dogs ready to run. I kind of got to hold them back because it is not quite time.”